Does Evangelicalism Encourage Weakness and Passivity?

hopeless without God

Recently, Aliyah Burton, a homeschooled 14-year-old, wrote a guest post for the Lies Young Women Believe website. Titled, Does the Maker of the Stars Want to Use You, the post reveals a troubling aspect of Evangelical thinking about how to live life. Burton wrote:

My heart has been hurting a bit these days because I know I have so much inside of me that needs to change. I don’t know how God’s going to work it all out. Things like pride, resentment, and arrogance build up in me, reminding me I’m still so broken.

I have these conversations with God, telling Him I have nothing left that’s any good at all. I probably sound a little like this: “I gave you all I thought you wanted. . . . Wait, what was that? . . . You want everything? Even the worst parts?” I run and hide, sometimes, from the God who made me.

I still wonder about this: Does He really want to see my brokenness? Does He really want to do something with me? Have you ever felt like that?..

I read God’s Word because I know He’s not going to take my excuses for an answer. I know He’s going to keep reassuring me as He did to Jeremiah . . .

“I know you”

“I have still chosen you.”

“I’m the One who made you this way, don’t you think I know how to use you?”

The way he said it made me laugh, but this truth rang clear to me: God is in charge, not me. Yet my itty-bitty human brain seems to think the Maker of the stars needs my permission to work in and through me.

I read God’s Word because I need to be reminded that He wants to use me, even when it doesn’t feel like that could possibly be true…

My initial response was one of sadness. Here’s a bright 14-year-old girl and she has already lost her ability to think rationally. Not only has she surrendered her ability to reason and think, she thinks the Evangelical God talks to her.

Here’s a girl sitting in her bedroom sad over the fact that she is not the person God wants her to be. She is plagued by pride, resentment, and arrogance, knowing that these things are a reminder of how broken she is. Ponder this thought for a moment. Here’s a girl who already thinks she is broken. That’s what the Evangelical teaching on original sin does to a person. It makes them see themselves as broken and in need of repair. And who can repair them? No one but God. This girl has been taught that she is helpless and hopeless without God, unable to do anything on her own.

Does she really have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem? Only she can answer that, but I suspect that her angst is fueled by the preaching and teaching at her church and her home school education. Minor character flaws are blown up into transgressions against a thrice-holy God. If she really does have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem, then she need not passively, obediently wait for God to fix her.  She is not weak, nor broken, and it is within her power to change her ways. Prideful? Stop! Resentful? Stop! Arrogant? Stop!

Far too many Evangelicals go through life thinking they are helpless, broken people who need God’s help to do anything. This kind of thinking makes them weak and passive, always waiting for God to forgive them, deliver them, show them a better way, or give them strength. Instead of relying on self, they are taught to rely on a non-existent God who supposedly never leaves them or forsakes them and sticks closer to them than a brother. They are reminded that the Bible says:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

They are also reminded that Jesus said in John 15:5:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals are told, You can’t do ANYTHING without Jesus. He is your strength. The very breath you have comes from him. Don’t trust your own reasoning, don’t trust the reason of any mere human. Trust God, lay your life at his feet, and let him direct your life. Remember, Jesus said we are to deny self. We don’t matter. Jesus is the end all. Jesus taught us to pray, God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven. Not our will, but his.

This is why uncounted Evangelicals are waiting for God to change them, correct them, or show them what to do. Marriage problems? Out of work? Health problems? Job problems? Conflict with children, spouse, coworker, neighbor, or friend? Financial trouble? Just wait and let God show you the way. Just wait and God will return your phone call. Just wait and God will use his mighty wonder-working power to conform your life into the image he wants it to be. And while they are waiting, life continues to move forward. Waiting on God becomes an excuse, a way of sidestepping personal responsibility, a way of ignoring character flaws.

Every one of us are responsible for our own behavior. There’s no God fix coming for what ails us. If it is important to us to be good, to treat others with decency and respect, then we will do what’s necessary to make these things happen. I have little patience for the prayers of the helpless. They have been neutered by religious teachings that have robbed them of their will. Taught to deny self, they trust in a deity that has no power to help them. The only person that can change ME is the person staring at me in the mirror.

Note

I am not against waiting, thinking, or meditating before making a decision. Haste is just as bad as passivity. When I need to make a decision or change something in my life, I try to give the matter careful consideration. But, when I act, it is me acting, not some outside source of power. As a humanist, I recognize that the buck stops with me and my fellow Homo sapiens.

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9 Comments

  1. Ahab

    This is absolutely true. Fundamentalism DOES infect its adherents with passivity and helplessness, to the point where making major decisions on one’s own is inconceivable to them. Believers who show initiative are accused of not trusting God. The results are heartbreaking.

    Years ago, I knew a smart, creative man who converted to an evangelical strain of Christianity, and it robbed him of any self-determination. He ignored job opportunities, relationships, etc. in favor of waiting for God to tell him what to do. His talents rotted on the vine while he waited for heavenly direction that never came.

    Reply
  2. carmen

    Oh, my Bruce. How sad a read was that?? Fourteen years old and contemplating her own worthlessness. When I read things like that, I get angry. Adolescence is hard enough. ..sigh. . .indoctrination versus education, right there.

    Reply
  3. Edward

    I wish there were a way to tell such young people that they are not broken, they’re just human.

    Reply
    1. howitis

      I know. :’-( Whenever I read or hear kids saying things like this, I just wish I could reach out and hug them, and tell them that they are okay, and that they are loved, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

      …and then I want to whisper in their ears: “Eighteen. College. Run. Run fast. Run far. Just run!!!”

      Reply
  4. Geoff

    The recurrent theme I keep seeing in these kinds of story is ‘homeschooling’. For me school is the most important part of one’s life from a developmental point of view, and leaving it to the whims and biases of even the best parents is denying children the essential mixing with others that is so vital. Very few of these stories suggest ‘best parents’.

    It’s also hard to understand why it is so normal to think parents have the skills and knowledge needed to teach their children properly. One wouldn’t risk removing removing the appendix of a child, yet somehow the skills of teaching become magically bestowed.

    Homeschooling should be abolished for all but the most critical of cases, and then only subject to the greatest regulation. Such children would be required also to spend a minimum number of weeks each year away from the influence of their parents, where they be allowed time to understand other world views.

    Reply
    1. Knoxville Freethinker

      There does seem to be a good deal of overlap between religiously-motivated homeschooling and this type of fundamentalist claptrap.

      As a product of a K-12 religiously motivated home school, I definitely see a mixed bag of positives and negatives.

      The strongest negatives include the strict control on and censoring of information deemed contrary to a particular evangelical worldview, a limited social group (comprised only of like-minded individuals), relationship stress and burnout between the home schooling parent and their children (they almost never have a break from each other), and less exposure to a variety of teachers and teaching methods.

      In my particular experience (certainly not universal) the educational quality of courses not affected by the evangelical worldview were equal-to-superior to those offered in the local public school district. If home schooling has an advantage, it is the ability to create an individually-based challenging curriculum. College courses were almost all a breeze compared to my high school classes. Another advantage was honing my ability to learn in ways other than a traditional “lecture” format–a skill that serves me well to this day.

      My biggest objection to home schooling in general (outside of the obvious fundamentalist sheltering and indoctrination) is quite similar to yours. Many parents are simply not equipped to add teaching all subjects at multiple grade levels across a variety of learning styles to their regular parenting duties. (Heck, I’d say many parents aren’t even qualified to parent). I know there are those who home school for secular reasons, are well-qualified to do so, expose their children to a wide variety of social situations and ideas, and tell others up front that home schooling is not for everyone, but they are exceedingly rare. The standard has been (and likely will be for some time) a fundamentalist family, scared of the “world,” teaching biased and often sub-par curriculum, with zero government oversight.

      Reply
  5. Melody

    It’s awful, isn’t it?! Our teen groups/college student groups were filled with people, myself included, thinking like this. You’re simply not allowed to be proud of yourself, because pride is a pretty major sin. It’s horrible that at a time in your life when you should be exploring, learning, and discovering new things as well as your own voice, you’re feeling broken, worthless, and useless… When I think about it, I get quite upset over the times I’ve been waiting for God to tell me what to do…not feeling secure enough or permitted to just make my own decisions.

    It causes people to see one’s own opinion and discernment as sin, to view simple responsibility as selfishness (not waiting for God): it keeps people small, like children or sheep…. Wait a minute… sounds familiar… Heaven forbid, we should make our own decisions…

    Reply
  6. The Truth

    You’re picking on a 14-year-old girl. Shame on you, and for being so foolish to think you can’t do anything without God. I feel for you. You’re the one who has lost his ability to think rationally.
    Praying for you,
    The Truth

    Reply
    1. Zoe

      Perhaps it is in your best interest to pray for yourself TT.

      Reply

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